Not a Slam Dunkin’

dunkin-logoLast week Dunkin’ Donuts renamed itself merely Dunkin’. They made a big deal about the name change which will become official in 2019. Here’s what their CEO said about the name change:

“Our new branding is one of many things we are doing as part of our blueprint for growth to modernize the Dunkin’ experience for our customers,” Dunkin’ Brands’ CEO and Dunkin’ U.S. President David Hoffmann said in a statement. “We believe our efforts to transform Dunkin’, while still embracing our incredible heritage, will keep our brand relevant for generations to come.”

Modernize the experience? Huh? Are they getting rid of old fashioned donuts?  When I heard the news, I thought to myself… What would my friend Bill Rosenberg have said if he were still alive?

Bill was the company founder. He opened his first coffee and doughnut shop, called the Open Kettle, in Quincy, MA in 1948. The name was changed to Dunkin’ Donuts two years later (that’s a real name change). Bill, along with Ray Kroc, are known as the fathers of franchising and Dunkin’ Donuts began on his franchising path in 1955. Dunkin’ Donuts was acquired in 1990 by the British conglomerate Allied Domecq. Today they are part of Dunkin’ Brands and according to their web site there are more than 11,300 Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants worldwide – with more than 8,500 restaurants in 41 states in the U.S.

bill rosenbergI met Bill 20 years ago and we became buddies. Where did we meet? At the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, ironically. Funny place for a couple of donut eaters to meet. Bill had a weight issue, as do I, and he was a frequent visitor. I was a “rookie” in 1998 as it was my first visit (of now 10 and counting). I was just 45 at the time but Bill was already 82, but in good shape.

We would walk daily for miles on the Al Buehler cross country trail in the Duke Forest. It is a 2.75 mile trail and can be extended with the extra loop. It is one of my favorite places in the world.

Bill would take me there and we’d walk every day during my 2 week visit. He’d talk, and I’d mostly listen. He was the smartest, feistiest businessperson I’ve ever met. And he was a character. He would say hello to every person we walked passed on the trail, but if you didn’t return his greeting he would mutter an obscenity.

Dunkin’ Donuts was Bill’s baby and his son had later come into the business as CEO and it was subsequently sold. I wasn’t 100% clear what his role was in the late 90s other than emeritus. I do remember him talking about their business issues—at the time opening joint units with sister company, Baskin-Robbins, was a key initiative. I thought it was a bad idea. He disagreed (It doesn’t make me smart, but I was right—rent sharing is not a business strategy).

Dunkin’ Donuts had just moved away from their long time “Fred the Baker” campaign at that time. That was a big deal. Moving their communications focus away from just donuts proved to be a smart strategy. (BTW, doesn’t make the current name change smart).

“Fred the baker” became an advertising icon, was best known for his expression “Time to make the donuts!”. Fred was an early riser in that long running, award winning campaign which ran from 1981-1997 which ended just a few months before I met Bill. It was clear to me that Bill was nostalgic for Fred the baker and saw himself in Fred.  But Bill understood that the brand’s communications needed to evolve.

In my walks with Bill, I also asked Bill for advice about my own ad agency and my career and he gave me smart counsel. I took back papers Bill  wrote and shared it will the management team of my agency (alas I wish I still had them).

After my Duke visit, I would still see Bill on occasion when he would make his annual driving pilgrimage from Massachusetts to Florida. He and his wife, Annie would stop (with their dog Schottzi) in NJ enroute to FL We would meet and have dinner. I enjoyed seeing him when I could, and was sad when Bill passed away from cancer in 2002 at the age of 86.

I think I knew Bill well enough that he would have thought the name change was blasphemy.  From my perspective, while I am hardly as emotionally involved in the brand and I don’t think it‘s blasphemy, on the other hand I don’t think it’s smart. Dunkin’ Donuts is a great brand name. Why mess it up, even just to shorten it? Some have likened it to Weight Watchers name change to WW (Also a dumb idea). Or to IHOP brand “name change” which was merely a stunt designed to get attention. I give IHOP points for a clever idea. But changing the Dunkin’ Donuts name in eliminating Donuts, they are overthinking and seemed to be ashamed of what they are known for–donuts, key to their brand. I don’t like the name change.

If Bill were alive and was asked what he thought about the name change, I suspect he would have responded in the same way he did to those who did not return his hello greeting when we walked at Buehler Trail. I wish I could ask him.

More Strumings


  1. Mac McKeithen says:

    Great article, Lonny. Reminds me of some of the icons of marketing that I was fortunate to have met in my career. Most were very generous with their time and their wisdom. I learned a lot from them.

  2. Rich H says:

    Great comments as usual. Someone from the West Coast, Canada or overseas may never connect Dunkin to how we know them from those late night coffee and donuts after the Bars close.
    WW =Weight Watchers
    3M = Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing

    And wow a column with out a mention of the Yankees. You feeling OK?

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